Mary Schuermann Kuhlman
Ohio’s Children Services agencies say they are becoming the destination for young people with all kinds of intensive or “high-acuity” needs.
A new report found nearly one in four kids entered Children Services custody in 2021 due primarily to mental illness, developmental disability or as a diversion from the juvenile justice system.
KelliJo Jeffries, director of Portage County Job and Family Services, said it added a layer of stress to an already strained workforce. She explained public agencies are required to secure timely and appropriate placements for young people, but there are just not enough viable options.
“We oftentimes are needing to call upward of 75 providers looking for placement for one kiddo,” Jeffries observed. “We are not able to really make connections based on the best needs of children. It oftentimes becomes a desperate need.”
Among youth who came into care in the counties surveyed, 6% had to spend at least one night at the agency because a placement wasn’t possible. Respondents cited a lack of treatment-level foster homes, staff shortages for residential placements, and beds at residential facilities already filled as the reasons behind the placement crisis.
Amy Wood, associate director of placements for Franklin County Children Services, said they spend a lot of time, energy and resources to find placements for young people with high-acuity needs. She is hopeful the community will come together to develop a collaborative approach to better serve children and families.
“It’s not a child welfare issue. It’s not a juvenile justice issue. It’s not a developmental disability agencies issue. It’s not the Behavioral Health Services issue alone,” Wood stressed. “We can no longer work in silos. We’re working with the same youth in our community, and we all have the same goals for these youth.”
Beyond the additional stress on the Children Services system, Jeffries explained children who are shuffled through placements struggle to build trusting relationships with their care providers.
“When we try to empower them to open up and to start dealing with the trauma, start dealing with the challenges, they get frustrated,” Jeffries noted. “To a point where they say, ‘I don’t want to tell my story again.’ It’s really not fair for them, they shouldn’t have to continue to go back and relive that.”
The report found state investments and technical assistance for multi-system youth have allowed some to avoid entering foster care. And it noted while efforts such as the Ohio Department of Medicaid’s OhioRISE program launching this summer should help, implementation will take time.
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